Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Julian Cope’s Album of the Month

Various Artists - High Vikings

Various Artists
High Vikings


AOTM #79, December 2006ce
Released 1987 on Cider Kellar Records
Side 1
  1. STEPPENVEULE/Du Skal Ug Hvor (2.31)
  2. THE MOONDOGS/Trying To Make You See (2.16)
  3. THE CROWD/Junk (2.29)
  4. THE STOMPS/My Parents (2.32)
  5. YOUNG FLOWERS/City Of Friends (3.08)
  6. THE DRYS/My Flash On You (2.46)
  7. THE COINS/Sadness (3.57)
  8. YOUNG FLOWERS/Like Birds (3.21)
  9. THE MOONDOGS/I’m Gonna Step On You (2.34)
Side 2
  1. THE NOBLEMEN/I’m Mad Again (3.25)
  2. THE BEEFEATERS/Lad Mig Bilve Noget (4.23)
  3. THE DRYS/I’m So Glad (8.09)
  4. THE BEEFEATERS/LSD-25 (3.13)
  5. DANDY SWINGERS/Stay With Me Baby (3.13)
  6. MASTER JOSEPH/All Your Love (5.52)
  7. THE BEEFEATERS/Night Flight (3.18)


Note 1: Although I’d known various Danish garage 45s and random album tracks since the ‘70s, when John Peel would foist them on us from time to time on his nightly 10pm-midnight BBC radio show, my real interest in Danish rock only truly kicked in when, in November 1995CE, I received in the post a copy of the monstrous 894-page Danish language rock encyclopaedia POLITIKENS ROCK LEKSIKON by the author Jan Sneum. The hardback had been sent to me as a gift by rock writer Jan Paulsen, a researcher on the project and long time Cope fan who’d interviewed me umpteen times in the past. Slumping on the sofa under the weight of this glossy motherlode, I dutifully checked the index out for Denmark’s all-time biggest coolest psychedelic band Savage Rose, in the hope of getting myself directed to whatever Jan Sneum called the ‘Danskrock’ section. I scanned the index again and again but Savage Rose was not there. How could this be? Savage Rose was seminal stuff. I checked out the only other Danish bands I could remember, but neither were Burning Red Ivanhoe nor the Young Flowers in the index. 894 pages of international rock music in Danish but never a Danskrocker amongst the throng. How could this be? I mean, Burning Red Ivanhoe had even had an LP out on John Peel’s Dandelion label. This bunch was hip. Upon inspection of my own index entry, I was, therefore, somewhat shocked to discover my own brother’s name indexed twice just above mine. Checking the first ‘Joss Cope’ entry, I deduced from the Danish text that it was commenting on his being signed to Creation Records with his then-current band. The other ‘Joss Cope’ entry was just a reference in an article about me, declaring that I had a brother of that name. Again how could this be? On their own home turf, the eight-album Savage Rose had been sacrificed at the altar of Rock, dissed in favour of my own brother’s two-single Creation Records deal. I winced. How could Jan Sneum have produced so vast an undertaking as an 894-page rock encyclopaedia, yet missed/dissed all and every Danish band? Over the next decade, I travelled many times to Denmark and gradually built up a good collection of ‘Danskrock’ ‘60s stuff, especially accelerated after picking up a later Savage Rose LP DODENS TRIUMF for twenty pence in a Melksham charity shop. The results of that epic trawl were explained in text in the DANSKROCKSAMPLER Album Of The Month for June 2004CE (see index). But I recently received in the post a large compilation of Danish rock, as a gift from my publisher friend Ole Knudsen of Copenhagen. The double-CD contained several garage classics that I’d heard before during my garage rock fixation, and so I duly fished out this garage compilation HIGH VIKINGS as the final Album Of The Month for 2006CE. I figured that as no one knew how those early ‘70s bands described in DANSKROCKSAMPLER got their sounds, this compilation was a good place to start.

Note 2: This review is again dedicated to Ole Knudsen for keeping me up-to-date with the re-issue goings-on concerning his extraordinary scene.



Fear The Norsemen!

Open Up Yer Door

OPEN UP YER DOOR

Like all of my favourite garage rock compilations, HIGH VIKINGS is a barbarian charge through the late ‘60s, spearing randomly selected victims (herein The Noblemen, The Drys, The Young Flowers, etc) at high speed, then binding them up one after the other and fusing them on to 12” vinyl, forever after bonded together at 33rpm. When Bruce Planty and his cohorts were at the peak of their garage compilation frenzy around 1985, little could they have guessed that a whole future generation of trash rock obsessives would thereafter come to associate the fade-out of Larry & The Bluenotes’ ‘Night Of The Phantom’ with the impending introduction of The (Swamp) Rats’ incredible and iconic ‘Rats’ Revenge (Parts 1&2)’, just because of a (random-yet-momentous) decision made in some anonymous Queens basement on a stoned, too-beery Tuesday evening because a particular disc happened to be closest to hand. Believe me, for certain sociopaths the aforementioned occurrence (Larry & The Bluenotes THEN The Rats) is as much a fact of life as night following day, as death following life, as ‘Rock’n’roll’ following ‘Black Dog’ on ZOSO.

Hipsville 29 B.C.

HIPSVILLE 29 B.C.

But enough, onwards to HIGH VIKINGS… Being Danish and just a little behind the British and US scenes, the bands on HIGH VIKINGS not only tend to have been doing their thing around a year later than London, New York, LA, etc., but – like Krautrockers, and Japanese Group Sounds outfits – managed simultaneously to embrace the then all-pervading current US and Brit trends WITHOUT entirely dissing the previous stuff of two years before. With hindsight, this trick has enabled the so-called ‘rock provinces’ such as Denmark, Japan, Germany, Italy, etc. (once rediscovered by rock’s seekers) to sustain the interest of international rock nutters, because those so-called ‘provincials’ never felt the need to dump such things as early ‘60s Sonics-styled frat rock sax for the next incoming trend such as wah-wah guitar in the manner that the too-cool Brits and Yanks felt compelled to do. Instead, the provincials just mixed it all up, keeping phasing long after ’67, deploying ‘Apache—style 1960 Hank B. Marvin spangley solos over early-70s analogue synth and gruff Hammond solo (“Didn’t Zappa do it on LUMPY GRAVY, Peder? Then so can we do it in sunny old 1972.”).

Oil Stains

OIL STAINS

On HIGH VIKINGS, many of these ‘66/’67 bands had emerged from the mid-60s beat era. In Britain, by ’67, beat groups were of course well stodgy and uncool. But Denmark still rang to the clamour of outfits with such prosaic monikers as The Stoke Sect, Ola & the Janglers, Pils & his Pilsners, Little Freddie & His Rockboys, The Stamping Bricks, Ranthe-Birch’s Smashband, Melvis Rockband (who later became The Medley Swingers because they’d spent so much money on having each of their shirts embroidered with a large capital ‘M’), The Clidows, The Five Danes, The Teenmakers, The Hitmakers, Sir Henry & His Butlers, or my all-time favourite name for a Danish beat group… Roy & Decent People. Come on! Imagine the conversation that went down before they came up with that winner! In a spectacularly international mixing of the metaphors, Denmark’s Cliff Richard-inspired surf band The Cliffters scored their biggest success far away in Japan, where their jazzy-styled surf song ‘Django’ was a massive hit. Neither were these Scando-Germanic surfers on their own in their Japanese Euro-surf success. Sure, the term ‘Euro-surf’ sounds like an oxymoron, but there were several such bands worthy of Japanese obsessions, not least Belgium’s red velvet-suited Jokers, who struck gold with unlikely singles such as ‘Football Boogie’ and ‘Spanish Hully Gully’ before topping the charts with their surf LP BEAT ON CHRISTMAS1.

Endless Journey

ENDLESS JOURNEY

Because of the wide range of music throughout the grooves of HIGH VIKINGS, it’s probably best that we address what is known (or even unknown) about each band in the order in which they appear before us on the compilation. The album’s running order is certainly not chronological, but the styles of the sixteen songs on HIGH VIKINGS never venture any wider than those ‘60s sounds on Lenny Kaye’s original NUGGETS double-LP. Moreover, many of the performers on HIGH VIKINGS went on to greater things by playing major roles in the bands described in the DANSKROCKSAMPLER, including The Dandy Swingers’ Annissette, who became the voice of Savage Rose, and Povl Dissing, Denmark’s answer to Van Morrison, here showcased in his R&B group The Beefeaters. The Stomps’ sinus-toned vocalist was Leif Roden, future leader of psychedelic progressive giants Alrune Rod (see Album Of The Month April 2005CE), whilst Steppenveule (‘Steppenwolf’) – through the otherworldly utterances of their poet/leader Eik Skaloe – inhabited a Brechtian half-life halfway between the Privileged & Educated but Wasted & Low lifestyles evoked through the Cale/Nico/Edie Sedgewick side of The Velvet Underground and Jimbo’s Eurodrunk guise on The Doors’ ‘Moon Of Alabama (Whisky Bar)’.

Psychedelic Unknowns

PSYCHEDELIC UNKNOWNS

It’s fitting, therefore, that Steppenveule should have opened HIGH VIKINGS with their hugely catchy 1967 single ‘Du Skal Ug Hvor’, originally released by Hamburg’s Metronome Records. For it was singer Skaloe who first dared to sing rock’n’roll in his native language (thereby consigning himself to a Denmark-only career), and whose disappearance in the Indian city of Ferozepore in 1968 fixed Steppenveule’s legend forever in the Danish collective psyche as those islands’ only truly authentic answer to Britain’s Brian Jones and America’s axis of Jimi, Jimbo & Janis. The two-and-a-half minutes of heavy barroom piano and bizarre vocal delivery suggestive of a male hybrid of Marlene Dietrich and Mouse & The Traps tells us that this could only be Steppenveule. Around fifty seconds into the song, a bracing branging guitar solo and grating key change accelerate the song up 100% before tumbling’n’cascading into a delightful vocal middle-8. The song collapses to a conclusion in precisely the same manner as Bump’s magnificent 1968 single ‘Winston Built the Bridge’. Next up, The Moondogs’ ‘Trying to Make You See’ is a superb cross-pollination of The Who’s ‘Pictures Of Lily’ and The Rolling Stones’ ‘Jumping Jack Flash’, similar to Massachusetts band The What Fours’s classic ‘Basement Walls’, especially so with the vocals being delivered by a hairy choirboy somewhat reminiscent of Peter ‘Herman’ Noone if he’d been petrol-injected with a more Keith Relfian cultiness. The Crowd’s extremely peculiar 1969 single ‘Junk’ kicks off next, and is more out of time than anything else herein.
Chosen Few

CHOSEN FEW

Apart from the yearning Rob Tyner vocals, this song’s minimalist post-‘Whole Lotta Love’ riffery is spectacularly subdued considering it emerged from rock’n’roll’s most Plant, Farner’n’Gillanized chest beating period in history. Instead, The Crowd dare to take the hoary Zep riff into a kind of Subway Sectian territory, replete with weird time signatures (nope, those ain’t skips, brothers’n’sisters) before opening up into chords at the very final pass through. Nicely restrained, chaps. We slip back three years, now, to The Stomps’ frustrated mid-1966 complain-o-thon ‘Parents’, on Indspillet Records. Over a generic Stones-y stomp, future Alrune Rod-er Leif Roden declares his disbelief that these two Ur-stooges sitting before him hunched in front of the TV had something to do with bringing his triumphant ass into the world. Featuring the great refrain: “This we have in common, not a word not a sound”, the music heaves with suppressed fuzz guitars that finally break free of their bondage, heralding an enormous middle-8, which shudders with early Who drum chaos and amplifier overload. Magnificent. Coming right after the archaic Stomps, it’s difficult to imagine that the barely suppressed squealing axe worship of Young Flowers’ 1967 single ‘City Of Friends’ on the Sonet label was recorded just one year later. But, as I explained in DANSKROCKSAMPLER, “the 1966 impact of the power trios Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience kicked into the Danish consciousness with [this] new band whose members had all previously played in well known beat groups.
Relics

RELICS

Cast in the role of the first Danish supergroup, Young Flowers were an often blues-based, but otherwise highly original bunch”. Too damn right, although Young Flowers exhibited an early Barrett Floydian approach to their trio playing, often taking their album tracks into ten-minute excursions of free rock territory, their beat group roots allowed Young Flowers’ members to retain at all times their original three-minute-single sensibility – convenient, too, for it enabled them to score big hits with classy concise statements like the song included herein. I’d guess that almost every classic garage compilation includes either a version of ‘Hey Joe’ (The Leaves/Byrds/Love arrangement) or Arthur Lee’s take on said song via his own ‘Feathered Fish’ (Zachary Thaks’ was the definitive versh) and ‘My Flash On You’ (also covered brilliantly by Thee Sixpence). It’s the latter song that upholds the tradition on HIGH VIKINGS, delivered with undue Thorlike gusto by an unknown band called The Drys. In possession of a manic bass drummer and a swooping bassist in the tradition of Golden Cups/Speed, Glue & Shinki’s Masayoshi Kabe, and powered by a monolithic garage organist on a par with the ultra-longhaired Masao Tonari of the Japanese early-Soft Machine addicts Datetenryu, The Drys’ manic version of this Arthur Lee song may swirl with DA CAPO-style flute à la Tjey Cantrelli, but even its recording engineers were hell bent on stirring up Woden’s Wild Hunt on this utterly berserk version. Next, the whole album emotionally tumbles with ‘My Sadness’, The Coins’ ham-fisted tale of love which comes on like some garage take on Bobby Goldsboro’s mawkish ‘Summer The First Time’. Personally, I find its mistranslated lyrical botch fascinating and strangely moving, especially this bit:

“And she received me lying there on the beach,
She was my instrument and we played a lovely tune.”

Glimpses

GLIMPSES

Better still is this four-minute song’s wah-wah overhill guitar solo, which kicks in at about 1.39 and just keeps in there for almost a minute-and-a-half. Including a weird and super-lumpen middle-8 key change, ‘My Sadness’ is a highly inventive psychedelic ballad despite the glorious failure of its lyrics. Young Flowers return next with the huge guitar tour de force of ‘Like Birds,’ another of their 1967 singles released on Sonet Records. What was it about these massively long guitar solos? Again, less than one minute into the song, demonic axe wielding kicks in and proceeds to tear the place apart for over a minute of overt manglism. Side one concludes in fine traditional style with The Moondogs’ adolescent ‘I’m Gonna Step On You’, the kind of generic adolescent beat song that appeared on the more melancholic Moulty Records compilation THE NEW ENGLAND TEEN SCENE (The What Fours’ ‘Eight Shades Of Brown’, The Rouges’ ‘The Next Guy’). Again, the poorly translated lyrics provide major entertainment when the singer declares to his girl:

“You put me down, and tread on me like I’m a piece of ground.”

Mind Blowers

MIND BLOWERS

Side two opens with The Noblemen’s ‘I’m Mad Again’, a dry dry staggering ‘I’m A Man’ one-chord blues. Like the best Cuby & The Blizzards material, this arid complain-o-thon is up there with some of the finest PEBBLES stuff. Then we’re off into the strange soul world of The Beefeaters, whose ‘Lad Mig Bilve Noget’ would probably be nothing more than a basic Memphis/Detroit R&B instrumental if not for vocalist Povl Dissing’s old-man-of-the-mountains abject, pleading vocal delivery. However, this in itself sets The Beefeaters far apart from EVERYONE, Dissing being in possession of a crackle mouth right up there with Captain Beefheart, Fergal Sharkey and ‘You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet’ by BTO. Dissing’s yammer raises the stakes no end, and immediately explains how this gravel breather was able to ride through the ‘70s on a high-powered solo career. The wah-organ-dominated Drys return next with their eight-minutes-plus take on Cream’s ‘I’m So Glad’, a song I wouldn’t give a thank you for in the hands of Clapton & Co, but which shakes itself alive here like a dormant sea monster from the ocean floor. The subterranean flute and growling rhythm guitar mung this version no end, allowing more Masayoshi Kabe-style bass to hubbub in and out of the mix the same way he does on The Golden Cups’ epic B-side version of ‘Hey Joe’. Using ‘I’m So Glad’ as their vehicle for a sonic onslaught, The Drys manage effortlessly to enter the same garage legend as Oxford Circle’s massive ‘Mind Destruction’ or ‘Psychedelic Journey Parts 1&2’ by Long Island’s guitar mercenaries The Mystic Tide. Then, we’re back with Povl Dissing’s street-corner-drunk for The Beefeaters’ magnificent take on The Pretty Things’ ‘LSD’. Here accompanied by wailing blues harp, this was the B-side of The Beefeaters’ 1966 debut single ‘Big City’, on Ecco Records. Dandy Swingers’ horn-driven 1966 version of Percy Sledge’s ‘Stay With Me Baby’ is an incredible Spectorized soul revue, anticipating Savage Rose’s higher revelations as their future singer Annissette takes the Janis Joplin route but transcends it effortlessly, her higher register shriekouts clearly preparing the way for Bjork’s future volvic wailing. The near-six-minutes of Master Joseph’s ‘All Your Love’ is a shimmering late night organ’n’guitar thunder original, heavily influenced by The Allman Brothers as done in the style of the American West Coast sound. Two minutes into the slow groove, the beat picks up into a superb Booker T-meets-Ray Man Z organ solo and whoever Master Joseph is cops some sobre falsetto, before the whole thing implodes and re-enters its glorious soul soup. HIGH VIKINGS concludes with ‘Night Flight’, a 1967 soul instrumental by The Beefeaters that coulda been by The Chocolate Watchband or one of those Mike Curb studio creations. ‘Dark Side Of The Mushroom’ generic guitar solos are overwashed with the sound of jetliners passing across the stereo as Povl & Co pretend to be checking in at Copenhagen Airport (yeah, it coulda been at Jutland’s provincial Aarthus Airport over to the west, but there’s never enough passengers to create that kind of five-people-plus crowd action).

Chocolate Soup For Diabetics

CHOCOLATE SOUP FOR DIABETICS

And so we conclude HIGH VIKINGS, an almost comprehensive overview of the post-Beat Era Danish scene at the height of its psychedelic garage assault delivered on a single vinyl record. Nice. And although, like compilations such as EVERYWHERE CHAINSAW, this record has been unavailable for two decades, you’ll be happy to learn that several of these essential tracks are now re-issued on Sonet’s massive triple CD DERFRA HVOR VI STOD – SANGE MED MERVAERDI (Sonet UMD 987 411 4). Completed with copious notes (in Danish, natch), this snappily-titled compilation contains tracks from the Beat Era right up into the mid-70s. Check it!


Footnotes:
  1. But, then again, the Japanese were entirely on their own in celebrating Finland’s unlikely surf combos The Quiets and the soberly-dressed quartet The Sounds, whose matching honey maple Fender guitars and royal blue suits gave them a ghoulish glow somewhat akin to The Shadows lost in the Nordic underworld. A surfing version of Rimmsky-Korsakov’s ‘Troika Chase’ anyone? Japan’s Philips label certainly felt that it was worth a shot! Ironically, The Sounds’ big Japanese hit ‘Mandschurian Beat’ would, three years later, be covered by their heroes The Ventures, who would ironically only get to hear it for the first time on their own Japanese tour in 1965.